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Q&A: Alteration of Functional Surgeon’s Cuffs

options for altering surgeons cuffs

Hi, I’m looking at a Tommy Hilfiger sport coat in your store and want to know if the sleeves can be let out at all. The sleeve measurement is probably too short for me. Thank you

Unfortunately, this jacket has functional cuffs (i.e. what some people call “surgeon’s cuffs”), so an alteration is not simple – but it is possible.

To alter sleeve length on a jacket like this, you need a good great tailor who regularly works on high end suits. Also, you’ll want a tailor who has the tools and skills to create new buttonholes.

Sleeves Shortened at the Cuff

My tailor has a creative solution he calls “the cut job” in which the buttons are removed along with a small rectangular section of fabric. Next, the sleeve length is set, and the section of fabric is then sewn back on with the functional buttonholes intact.

One way to alter surgeon's cuffs on a tailored jacket

The inspiration for this procedure came from modern jackets like the one below, made by Lanvin. These jackets are designed with stitching around the vent and buttons, creating a section which could be surgically removed and then reattached.

functional cuffs on a double breasted sport coat by Lanvin, surgeon's cuff

The results are not always beautiful (as you can see on the checked jacket). Workmanship will be more or less noticeable with different patterns and fabrics. The outcome is acceptable, when compared to improper sleeve length, or not wearing the jacket at all.

Shortening Sleeves at the Shoulder

Another alternative is to shorten the sleeve at the shoulder, which presents different challenges (and expenses). 

Jacket sleeves are tapered. This means the sleeve circumference changes below the shoulder/armhole. Therefore, attempting to shorten the sleeves any more than 1 inch is not advisable and will probably ruin the jacket.

Yet another alternative: you could also ask your tailor to shorten the sleeves conservatively at the shoulder and trim the cuffs (also conservatively) without touching the buttons.

What to Avoid

Whatever you choose, do not be satisfied with an outcome like this one (pictured below) Some people should stick to the laundry business, and not offer alterations. If the person you hire charges 12 bucks to fix up your sleeves, don’t expect pleasing aesthetics. You’d be better off removing the buttons altogether.

Poorly done alteration of jacket cuff

To conclude: if you usually need major sleeve alterations, it’s best to seek out jackets with unfinished cuffs, or non-functional buttons on the cuff.

In my opinion, an off-the-rack jacket should not be sold with finished surgeon’s cuffs. But that’s typical these days as fashion companies add obvious details that try to display the mark of quality/craft in a garment.